Monday, May 08, 2006

Recanati's contextualism and compositionality

Is Recanati's brand of radical contextualism compatible with the thesis of compositionality for natural languages? I take the thesis of compositionality to be (roughly) that the meanings of sentences are composed out of the meanings of the parts of the sentence. The modulation of senses that Recanati discusses in Literal Meaning is certainly compatible. It is roughly what Pustejovsky talked about in his Generative Lexicon. The sense of one word is changed to match, or covaries (I think that is his term) with, another word, e.g. in polysemy. This is compositional since the meanings of the covarying parts together go into the total meaning of the sentence. Saturation is also compatible with compositionality. Free enrichment doesn't seem to be compatible with it since there is no limit or constraint on how the enrichment is carried out. Now, the enriched meaning goes into the total meaning, so it is compatible in that sense. However, the meaning of the word is not constrained to match its standard meaning. This seems to violate compositionality in one stage of the prepropositional processing. At the least, there is no systematic way to build up to the enriched meaning from the base meaning in a compositional manner.

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